Neil Parish MP has endorsed Devon and Somerset’s broadband bid

Devon and Somerset County Councils have announced their plans to submit a joint bid for funds from the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) agency, which will put an end to the broadband black-spots that are constraining businesses and communities in Devon. The Government has given BDUK a £530 million fund to assist with the roll out of superfast broadband to those predominantly rural areas that private companies are unable to invest in and I am pleases to offer my endorsement for Devon and Somerset’s joint bid for a fair portion of these funds.Currently there are 75,000 businesses and households in Devon and Somerset that have no, or very slow, access to the internet and 22% of rural businesses in Devon say that this lack of connectivity is constraining productivity and growth. This is exacerbated by Devon’s poor transport infrastructure and its distance from other markets in the UK.The internet has empowered small and medium sized businesses to expand their reach, compete in the market place and has allowed areas that are geographically isolated to become exporters of e-commerce goods and services. In 2009 the internet contributed an estimated £100 billion to the UK economy and is set to grow by 10% a year for the next five years.Devon is in danger of digital exclusion and missing out on next generation broadband. It has been estimated that 86% of the communities in Devon could be at risk of being excluded from Next Generation Access, compared with 49% nationally.Weekly pay in Devon is 15% lower than the national average and in some rural areas this falls to 22% below the national average. If Devon is going retain and grow businesses and improve accessibility to public services it is vital that Devon and Somerset receive the funding to provide superfast broadband to our 300,000 businesses and households.But Devon does not need to rely on sympathy for this bid for broadband funding. The combined bid by Devon and Somerset local authorities is a compelling one and has many strengths that the Government should consider when allocating BDUK funding.The bid by Devon and Somerset for broadband funding has already won the support of the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) that will cover Devon and Somerset, who have said that securing superfast broadband is their top priority and has also won the support of the vast majority of Devon and Somerset MPs from all three political parties.The joint bid made by Devon and Somerset also covers the same administrative areas as the LEP which demonstrates the strength of the partnership and local support and shows how we can offer the public value for money by sharing expertise and resources and public sector networks across the five Unitary Authorities (Devon, Plymouth, North Somerset, Somerset and Torbay). The size of the bid, which is unique in that it crosses County borders, enables Devon and Somerset to leverage the most competitive tender from the telecoms market and deliver a bigger, better outcome for the Government’s investment. If Devon and Somerset’s joint bid is successful it will mean significantly fast broadband (at least 2 Mbps) for everyone in Devon, not just in urban areas but in the rural parts as well and superfast broadband (20 Mbps) for 85% of households. With Cornwall receiving £132 million from the European Union to create one of the fastest broadband fibre networks in Europe and Bristol’s relatively good broadband means that if Devon and Somerset bid goes through it would plug the gap and deliver broadband for the South West from the Isles of Scilly to the outskirts of Bristol. If we had good, fast broadband, many of the businesses could remain in the area and overcome distance to markets, along with all the health and education needs being met. I believe this will bring public services closer to the people that need them and provide easier access to services, advice and information. This is about delivering competitive and affordable broadband. We need our communities in both urban and rural areas to be able to benefit from digital inclusion and play a role in shaping their communities and growing the local economy. I urge the Minister to ensure that when bids are being considered from various areas, Devon is given a bite of the cherry.Neil Parish MP